Food safety control remains challenging
Rising violations of food safety law have triggered public worry while concerned authorities appeared inactive in redressing the situation, Phuong Lien and Dinh Hang of the Tin tuc Cuoi tuan (Weekend News) reported.

>>Government gets tough on food safety violations

Rising violations of food safety law have triggered public worry while concerned authorities appeared inactive in redressing the situation, Phuong Lien and Dinh Hang of the Tin tuc Cuoi tuan (Weekend News) reported.

From 2011 to 2016, over 1,000 food poisoning cases were reported nationwide, affecting nearly 30,400 people of whom 164 died. On average, each year recorded 167.8 cases, involving 5,065 victims with 27 deaths.

Within six months from December 2016 to May 2017 alone, 44 serious food poisoning cases were reported nationwide, killing at least 16 of 1,006 affected people.

Food safety inspections of 3.35 million businesses from 2011 to 2016 found over 678,700, or 20.3%, committed violations.

On May 29, the environment police of Ha Tinh province caught a container truck carrying nearly 3 tons of smelly animal viscera declared as clean seafood without papers proving their origin.

Earlier, mothers having children fond of sausages were shocked to learn that a food producer in Hoang Mai district, Hanoi, turned rotten meat into sausages by using more than ten kinds of food additives of unclear origin.

Since early this year, at least 14 drinkers have died of methanol poisoning while hundreds of others under critical conditions have been given intensive care.

Between last October and now, the Vietnam Food Administration alone punished 24 food safety violators with a total fine of over VND 4 billion.

Growing vegetables according to VietGap standards at Long My cooperative in Hoa Thanh district, Tay Ninh province__Photo: Le Duc Hoanh/VNA

A Ministry of Health representative attributed rampant violations to a lack of food safety inspectors in both number and quality. The number of food safety inspectors nationwide stood at a modest 1,000 while in Beijing, China, alone, this number was over 5,000, and in Japan, more than 12,000.

To ensure food safety needed local governments’ involvement since no ministry or sector could have enough personnel to detect and handle violators, Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said, saying local administrations currently did not pay enough attention to this work. Many localities did not arrange or arranged inadequate resources to control unsafe food, given the sense of law observance of food producers and traders remained low.

Difficulties in applying the criminal law to food safety violations were also a problem, experts said, pointing to the lack of documents guiding the punishment of the offense of “violating food safety regulations” provided in the Penal Code. Therefore, in five years from 2011 to 2016 only a single case involving Hanoi Import-Export Joint Stock Company 29 which produced poisonous liquor, causing four deaths in Quang Ninh province, was brought to court.

Light penalties were another reason, Ho Chi Minh City National Assembly deputy Pham Khanh Phong Lan said, citing an average fine of merely VND 200,000 (roughly USD 9) for a food safety violation, which was too low to deter violators.

Lax coordination among responsible authorities and poor inspection were also to blame, Lan said, pointing out without testing devices, food safety inspectors mostly focused on checking business licenses, certificates and others, which might be lawful, but no one knew if businesses actually complied with their licenses. She stressed the need to equip food inspectors with quick and accurate testing kits to conduct physical inspection rather than paper checks only.

Hanoi National Assembly deputy Tran Thi Quoc Khanh pointed to overlaps in management activities of the agriculture, health and industry and trade sectors. Only the agriculture sector should be responsible for food safety control since it was in charge of food production, Khanh said, adding the health sector should only coordinate in inspection while the trade and industry sector should deal with violating products in the market.

She also suggested increasing the accountability of leaders of local governments who must be held responsible for food safety violations in their localities.

Nguyen Van Viet, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Inspector, agreed the role and responsibilities of heads of local administrations from provincial to communal level should be raised, believing this would largely help improve food safety.

He also urge to enforce the new Penal Code as soon as possible to enable functional bodies to effectively penalize food safety violations. At present, only violations causing serious damage, i.e. human damage, are subject to prosecution but under the new Penal Code, intentional use of banned substances causing widespread poisoning would be a criminal offense, Viet said, adding this would help gradually change public awareness and behaviors in the use of banned substances in food.

Authorities should also focus on resolving specific problems, said Le Truong Giang, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Public Health Association, citing for example, Ho Chi Minh City should issue as soon as possible regulations on management of food additives, which may only be produced and traded by food businesses with food safety certificates.- (VLLF)

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